Book excerpt: Skills coach Darryl Belfry on finding the right drill for elite talent

Belfry Hockey

This excerpt from Belfry Hockey: Strategies to Teach the World’s Best Athletes by Darryl Belfry with Scott Powers is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, or 


The last five or six years, I started really moving through the teaching roles. I really felt like that was a critical component. At first you’re the director, then you’re the collaborator, then the facilitator, and, ultimately, the co-teacher. I wanted to set up my drills to mirror these teaching roles. I was progressing the kids not only through the content, but through the relationship with me and their reliance on me as the teacher. We’d gradually move toward teaching each other. That’s ultimately where I want to end up on different skills. The next parallel I was always trying to match was that the drill structure had to have a lot of variability and a lot of opportunity for me to be able to pivot for different reasons. 

To start off, everything was way easier for me when I understood game situations. That was the best part of Brantford, because whenever I would ask the coach what his challenges were and what the team was doing well, he would always relate it to the game. In these games, our kids don’t protect the puck well enough, so we’re on defense all the time or we get into good areas and our kids just don’t shoot the puck well enough. It takes us a lot of time to score. What do you got for scoring, Darryl? We have a hard time getting out of our own end. We get pinned in. We’re very susceptible to an aggressive pinch. We can’t problem-solve the pinch. Our wingers just aren’t strong enough. What can we do with that off the forecheck? We pride ourselves on having a strong retrieval game, and we don’t forecheck. We don’t get in on it fast enough, our support is too late. F2 is nowhere to be found even if we do get the puck stop. We’re susceptible to a team that that uses their D partners. Whenever they go D to D, we really struggle with rotation. We need to work on rotations. These were all the variables that could happen in just one night. 

I was always trying to figure out, Well, what is this game situation, what would that look like at this particular level, where else could this type of thing be used? If it’s puck protection, we could do that everywhere. I could do that in the defensive zone, in the neutral zone, in the offensive zone, off the rush, in small space. There are lots of things I could do with that. Then I could start to pinpoint the undercurrents here. What’s the underlying message that we want the coaches talking about? Forechecking, well, the premise behind forechecking is pursuit and angle, so we’re going to focus on those two things. That’s going to be an undercurrent. That’s going to run all the way through. Puck protection, well, that’s body position and puck placement, so that’s important. A little bit of awareness, maybe some reverse hits, we could put all that into it. The team doesn’t pass well enough, so there’s timing, puck support, passing technique. We can have that as the undercurrent. There’s also pass receiving. Maybe the passer is okay, but the pass receiver doesn’t take good angles to support the puck or doesn’t understand the casting component of being able to use their stick to soften the catch. Maybe there’s just a whole availability situation in that the younger they are, the less understanding of movement off the puck they have. Maybe there’s a real value in what we could do off the puck. 

Then, what are the key details? I understand the skills I want to do, but what are the details inside of it? What about angling? Well, there’s stick position, there’s the actual angle that we take. How can we elongate the contact opportunity here? What can we do with our stick? What can we do on the takeaway? What are the details with this whether we stick lift or stick slap or stick press? How are we doing this takeaway? What are the escape routes inside of that? Maybe there are two people coming; what’s the interaction between those two? How are they reading off of each other? Is there a way to simplify it? Could we go old-school where you have the rabbit, the hound, and the fox? The rabbit is the guy with the puck who’s trying to get away, the hound’s pressuring, and the fox is reading the play and trying to anticipate and time his support. Is there a way to articulate the rules to these players in a way they can understand? What are the details? How can I communicate those details? 

When I was in Brantford, I never got into parallel structures. I wasn’t that far in my personal development. It hadn’t revealed itself to me up to that point. It was a big enough bite just to understand how to set up and run the sheet and be able to hit the target areas and still pass the sweat test. Later on, I started understanding parallel structures and that became a big part of some of the questions. Like, can I do two things at once? Do I need to run them opposite of each other, or can I run them together where it’s a sequence and we’re building two different things, but they’re expressed together with good shouldering? Where could I build the peaks? 

Sometimes I did go on drill runs where I’d have three or four drills. Usually the coach would ask for two different things, so I would teach two different things. It was rare for those things to go hand-in-hand. It was usually like, We struggle on the breakout and we have problems on the penalty kill, so I would be doing things that were breakout-oriented for a drill run and then we would pivot and work on the penalty kill concepts. But how do I build the peaks? I needed to have the energy spike at different times to keep things hopping and popping for a little bit, at least, without getting so slow where it’s too teaching-oriented and the kids leave the ice without passing the sweat test. Now everybody is unhappy.

Darryl Belfry

I also had to determine who the top players were. This was something I carried over from my Nathan Horton days, understanding who the top player is and what top players’ assets are. Is it just one guy, or could it be two or three? What are their assets? That would allow me to understand which kid we could start zeroing in on to push the whole thing along. Then, ultimately, I focused on relationship building, making it fun and creating a real connection inside the teaching, where I was relied upon. 

In the early days, I wanted to be relied upon. I wanted all eyes on me. I wanted the respect from the group, from the coach. I wanted him to respect what I was doing and be like, “Wow, that was awesome.” I needed all of those kind of affirmations. That was all relationship building and how I was moving the group through and what kind of a handle the coach had on his own group. Whenever I was there, I wanted to be the best ice they had. It had to be significantly better than what the coach was capable of doing on his own, which was tough, because there were some outstanding coaches who had been coaching for years and years and knew what they were doing. So whenever I came out there, it was a little intimidating, because I didn’t have the same kind of experience that way. I knew how to teach, but I needed to be able to make an impact and have the coach’s takeaway be that having me there was worthwhile. 

The drill formats were a live document for me. I kept adding new formats as I started to understand them and started to mess around with them and use them for different purposes. But it really starts with an isolation. That’s the very first thing. Which drill formats can I use to create an isolation? We used to use the continuous butterfly drill format a lot for edge control and all the skating components, as a warmup of sorts. You’d start with the kids going from basically top of the circle to top of the circle, down the middle of the ice, and executing something. It could be the inside edge with a puck. Then they’d make the turn, either direction at the top of the circles, and come back down the boards or the outside. Then you’d have another skill, so maybe it would be inside edge on the way down and outside edge on the way back. Then they’d make the turn at the bottom and come back down the middle, so the way the ice is moving looks like a butterfly. There might be some spacing problems because kids aren’t moving at the same speed, so there’s some trying to navigate out of the way. Once you understood the group or the group undersood you, you could pivot. As they’re going, you could be just shouting the next thing. You could let them go for two or three reps doing outside edges, long strides, some crossover or overspeed work, and then switch to going backward. You could just be standing there telling them what to do. You could add pucks, you could add passing; there are tons of things you can do. I used to love that format, because again I felt like it had a lot of variability. I could do different things with it. I could slow it down. I could speed it up. I could isolate. I could teach from it. 

The end zone line, for us, was a straight power skating format. Depending on how many kids they had on the ice, they would try to have groups of four or five lines, and four or five kids in a line, so 20 kids total. If you had more kids, you had to add more lines. Now you’ve got six or seven lines across the goal line and you’re just progressing straight down the ice doing certain isolated movements. I remember watching power skating situations where they would stay in that line format the whole time. It was literally a whole hour of just going down the ice doing one thing, getting some corrections, and coming back down the ice doing another. Their entire ice sheet would be worked off of those lines. It was very controlled. You could see everything going on. You could move the best kids to the front of the line. It really was a simple format that was good for isolations, whether it was starting kids in the corner and using the icing line and then maybe the blue line in their end. You have two groups. One’s in one end and one corner, one’s in the other end and the opposite corner. They go across the goal line, up the boards, back across the blue line, and back in line, working in a square. You could also do all the lines. They go up across the goal line, cross the ringette line. We have the ringette line in a lot of Canadian rinks, so it’s a good line to be able to use for teaching blue line, red line, blue line, ringette line, icing line. I’ve also used the dot lines both across the ice and down the ice, but those are good isolation formats where you can run a lot of kids through in a short period of time and you can isolate whatever skill set you want to work on. 

Then you have pair skills. I liked to use pairs to start getting the work-to-rest ratio going. Sometimes you have a group of 20 kids on the ice, 10 in one line, 10 in the other. By the time it accordions around the rink, the kids are standing in line a whole lot. Even though you can get a lot of kids moving, there’s still a lot of time in between as they wait for that centipede to come back to the end. So I have found using pairs is a better way to create high reps; I go, you wait, then you go, I wait, and we’re doing different things, which could also add a bit more skill blending. 

I used to do a lot of catch-and-turn stuff where there were some techniques I really wanted to work on the turn. I would do it off the pass. I could also do it through puck protection setup. Pairs were a really good format, and I could use multiple skills in a sequence. I could have partners go, and I could tell them, “You’re going to do three skills. You’re going to start off with one skill. When I blow the whistle, you move to the next skill. When I blow the whistle, you move to the next skill, and then you switch roles.” If I had multiple things I wanted to work on that were components of what we were doing that day, I knew I could go to this pair and knock them all off in a very short period of time with a high rep rate. I could see which the weakest one was and then isolate that, if I wanted to, and put it into a line or an end zone line or something. By isolating it, I could make sure that we did the extra work on it and then move on to the next thing. That’s what I mean about the corrective value of it. You could use a drill format just to evaluate where the skill is at before you pull it back into isolation to work on it, build it back up again, and you plug it back into the overall structure of what you’re working on. If you had like a small group, this would be like the role rotations we went over.

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    Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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    NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2.

    Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

    With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

    “That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

    Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

    “Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

    Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

    “Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

    The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

    Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

    Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

    The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

    “Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


    Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


    Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

    Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

    Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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    BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

    “I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

    David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

    Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

    “We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

    The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

    Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

    Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

    DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

    “It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

    Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

    “I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


    Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

    “We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


    The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

    NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


    Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

    Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.

    Boldy’s goal with 1.3 left in OT lifts Wild over Devils

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    NEWARK, N.J. – Matt Boldy scored with 1.3 seconds left in overtime and Filip Gustavsson made a career-high 47 saves to give the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

    The game was a chippy, defensive struggle. After two scoreless periods, the Devils were outshooting the Wild 22-19.

    Minnesota finally broke through 6:41 into the third when Mason Shaw scored his seventh goal of the season on a wraparound.

    Timo Meier answered for the Devils five minutes later with his 35th goal of the season on a wraparound of his own.

    New Jersey was unable to convert on a late power play, and the teams went to overtime.

    It was a back-and-forth five minutes of extra hockey, with both goaltenders making good saves. After Jack Hughes hit the post for the Devils, the puck caromed off a post to Boldy and he beat the buzzer with his 23rd goal of the season.

    Vitek Vanecek stopped 27 shots for New Jersey.

    NOTES: The Devils are 10-4 in overtime, while the Wild improved to 4-5.


    Wild: Play at Philadelphia on Thursday night.

    Devils: Play at Buffalo on Friday night.

    Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signs extension through 2026-27

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    DENVER – Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signed a three-year extension that will keep him in charge of the reigning Stanley Cup champions through the 2026-27 season.

    The new deal for the winningest head coach in club history kicks in once the current contract runs out after the 2023-24 season.

    Bednar, 51, is the only person to win championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL as head coach. He directed the Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup title in team history last season by beating Tampa Bay, the two-time defending champions.

    This season, the Avalanche have dealt with an array of injuries, which include missing captain Gabriel Landeskog all year after he underwent knee surgery in October. But they’re starting to creep closer to being healthy – and working their way up the standings. Colorado is riding a six-game winning streak to remain in a tight race with Dallas and Minnesota for the Central Division crown. The top spot in the Western Conference is in play, too.

    “Jared has done a tremendous job behind the bench and certainly deserves this extension and to continue as the leader of our team,” Joe Sakic, the team’s president of hockey operations, said in a statement.

    It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for Bednar in his inaugural season for Colorado. In 2016-17, his team amassed only 48 points (22-56-4) to finish last in the league. Since then, it’s been full steam ahead for Bednar and the Avalanche. They became the first NHL squad to go from worst to first in a span of four seasons or less since the 1970-71 Bruins, according to research by the team.

    In addition, Bednar has led the Avalanche to five straight playoff appearances – and is closing in on a sixth – to become the first Avalanche coach to accomplish the feat. His 40 postseason wins are the second-most in team history, trailing only Bob Hartley (49).

    “His strength as a communicator, his relationship with the players, the way he prepares each and every day is a huge reason our team has been so successful,” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “He is an exceptional leader.”

    Bednar is currently the third-longest tenured coach in the league, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan (December 2015).

    “Being able to lead this team over the last seven years has been a privilege,” said Bednar, whose team faces the Penguins on Wednesday. “I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to continue building on what we’ve accomplished so far.”

    Bednar captured a Kelly Cup (ECHL) with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, along with a Calder Cup (AHL) with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.